Tame Chaffinches, the delightful Dipper, and a beautiful Red Kite

We’ve had our first snow of the season – a good covering which lasted a day or two – and plenty of hard frosts to help take the last of the golden leaves off the silver and downy birch trees which we have on our land and partly cover the hills around us. Large flocks of chattering Fieldfares have been flying overhead in search of rowan trees and to strip them bare of berries, and I’ve so many tame Chaffinches in the garden that I can’t walk out the house without being surrounded by the wee fellas all badgering me for yet another scoop of sunflower hearts. So winter has now definitely arrived here in the Highlands.

And on those Chaffinches, they really have become that tame and will literally follow me into the garage building where I keep the seed. Becoming so tame is an interesting trait which this species displays, and certainly relative to other finches – e.g. Greenfinch and Goldfinch – they can become amazingly trusting of humans. I’ve no idea why this is, though having googled ‘tame chaffinch’ I can see that many people have had similar experiences and concluded the same as me.

Anyway, a few other highlights from our croft in Sutherland over the last month…

Most afternoons we take my wife’s three ponies down to a large flat meadow we have which runs alongside the river Fleet. We do this because the meadow the ponies spend most of their time in and which is next to our house, is now largely bare of any half-decent grazing. The ponies actually get excited about going to the meadow, and as soon as we get their head collars on they know where they’re off to and are busting to get there. But actually I enjoy the short excursion myself and often see something interesting along the way, and about 10 days ago I especially enjoyed the sight of a Dipper just metres away and perching and bobbing on an overhanging branch before it dived back into the ice cold water of the river. Dippers have long been a real favourite bird for me, and I remember the very first time I watched them on the River Lyn in North Devon some 37 years ago.

A few months back I mentioned I’d been watching a lone Red Kite which had taken up residence around a quarry a few miles away, but since then I’ve twice seen it flying over our croft. Although Red Kites are now very common again in some parts of the UK, in the north of Scotland they remain very rare so it’s been really exciting to see this most elegant of raptors grace the sky above us. I just hope it doesn’t fall victim to illegal activity from a mercenary gamekeeper, and I say this not just because such people are still, sadly, numerous across the Highlands, but more specifically because there’s a pending court case involving three gamekeepers from the very estate the bird is most seen over. I do find it staggering that, in 2013, I should still have such concerns, but that’s the very unfortunate reality of the situation. That said, I equally think it’s important not to tar all gamekeepers with the same brush and, as it happens, the head gamekeeper for my local estate lives right opposite me and I consider him to be a really good guy (see my last month’s blog for an example of why).

In the month ahead and with our new stable block and storage shed now largely complete, I’ll be taking to the hills again and will hopefully have some interesting wildlife tales to tell in my December blog.


Our monthly columnist from the Scottish Highlands

A long-time associate of Vine House Farm is Roger Hughes, who now lives in the north of Scotland and the beautiful county of Sutherland. Roger helps us with a range of business services, but he’s also a keen bird watcher, is very knowledgeable about feeding birds, is a general nature lover, and also partly earns his living from writing. He lives with his wife, Julie, and they have a small croft with a wide mix of habitats from wooded riverbank to meadow and moorland – all good for wildlife of course. So with all this in mind, Roger now writes a monthly column for the Vine House Farm website which we very much hope you’ll follow and enjoy.